If one reads the First Amendment carefully, one notices that there are no caveats in the rights enshrined there. There’s nothing that says Americans have freedom of speech unless they are Democrats. There’s nothing that says Americans have freedom of assembly, unless they are Mormons. There’s nothing that says Americans have the freedom to petition their government, unless they are members of the clergy. Of course, I’m only reading the words, rather than the signs of the political times. Bill Press, former Catholic seminarian turned radio talk show host, fills us in the on the effects of the latter on the former:

A carefully-crafted piece of legislation – the result of months of debate and consideration by three different House committees – was before the House for a final vote. But, at the eleventh hour, lobbyists for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops descended on the Capitol, declared they could not accept provisions in the bill restricting federal funding of abortion, demanded that the language be changed – and dutiful Democrats did just what the bishops ordered.

In so doing, they might as well have tossed the First Amendment, and its separation of church and state, right out the window.

Because the bishops, by virtue of being Christians who hold positions of the authority in their church, apparently forfeit the rights of free speech and government petition when the don the collar. Heaven and the Constitution forbid that elected representatives should actually listen to, and even–yikes!–take the views of their constituents into account before casting their votes. Amazingly, there are no reports of any middle age or older men standing on the floor of the House as the vote was being taken, croziers poised to knock unconscious anyone who defied the decree of their Popish master, but maybe Press has secret information beamed directly from the Capitol to him through his tinfoil hat.

Pro-choice organizations are furious at Democrats for approving the tightest restrictions on women’s reproductive rights since Roe v. Wade. And rightfully so….

But civil liberty advocates should be equally angry over such a blatant violation of the Constitution. In effect, members of Congress gave Catholic bishops a veto over federal legislation: power that no group of religious leaders should hold over a secular, popularly-elected Congress.

WAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!! Those mean old celibates, they went in there, or they sent their minions up the Hill, and they, they…they TALKED AND STUFF! They said what they thought, and it wasn’t what I think! And those stupid old poopy-headed congresspeople LISTENED TO THEM! It’s not fair, it’s not fair, it’s not fair! It’s against the rules! The rules say poopy-headed congresspeople are only supposed to listen to ME and nice people in suits from the National Council of Churches!

Of course, Press isn’t along in stamping his feet and holding his breath until he turns blue. As noted in the previous post, Barry Lynn of Americans United, Carlton Veazey and allies in the pro-abortion religious left, and others are sounding like the 19th century Know Nothing Party. Here’s a great example, from James Ridgeway writing in Mother Jones:

So American public policy on health care and reproductive rights is being shaped not by a majority of voters or even a majority of Catholic voters, but by a bunch of celibate men in robes, answering to a reactionary 82-year-old German in the Vatican.

Or how about this, from Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards:

“It is extremely unfortunate that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and anti-choice opponents were able to hijack the health care reform bill in their dedicated attempt to ban all legal abortion in the United States.

Or former CNN, now MSNBC  journalist Bob Franken:

Those who believe the First Amendment should prohibit ANY ties between our government and religious organizations have gotten strong support for their arguments in recent days.

It seems that these deals with the angels have strings attached that fly right into the First Amendment’s prohibition against government’s ”… establishment of religion…”

You get the idea. For some on the left, the First Amendment’s guarantees apply to all Americans…except those who wear Roman collars and happen to be on the winning side now and then.

UPDATE: Two things, actually. One is a line from a statement made on the RCRC web site by pro-abortion magnate Carlton Veazey:

This action by the House is an unacceptable denial of our constitutional right to live according to our own moral beliefs.

This is a mistranslation of what Veazey meant to say. What he meant to say was this:

This action by the House is an unacceptable denial of our constitutional right to have the taxpayers pony up for our moral beliefs.

The other has to do with that quote from Barry Lynn that I mentioned yesterday. Here it is again:

Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn told NPR he is “horrified” by what happened.

“What we saw over the weekend was an act of unparalleled arrogance on the part of church officials,” Lynn said. “Basically, they were claiming they would kill health care for the sick and the poor if the Democrats didn’t give them the votes to impose religious doctrine into law. It’s scandalous that this religious group has such extraordinary control over the fate of women’s lives in this country.”

The more I’ve thought about this, the more revealing it is about what Americans United is really about. AU has always claimed that churches, and more specifically leaders such as bishops and pastors, were free to seek to influence public policy debates. They may not endorse candidates, AU says, but they are free to engage the issues of the day. Now here we have Lynn saying, in essence, that the Catholic bishops, in exercising their rights to free speech and government petition, somehow “controlled” the debate, and that they had the power to “kill” the health care bill by opposing it. Not only does this reduce the representatives to automatons doing the bishops’ bidding; not only does this sound like good old-fashioned anti-Catholic nativism; but this is essentially saying that certain religious individuals and organizations don’t in fact have the right to try to influence debates on public policy, at least not if there’s any chance that their efforts might bear fruit. For years, the National Council of Churches, Lynn’s own United Church of Christ, and other mainline denominations and interest groups have lobbied Congress on all manner of issues. They don’t hesitate to say that the positions they take are founded in their particular religious vision and beliefs. Their actions have never, ever drawn so much as a “tsk, tsk” from Barry Lynn or the organization he leads. And yet now he has the unmitigated gall to be “horrified” at the Catholic bishops, and to denounce their efforts to “impose religious doctrine” on Americans.